An Introduction to the Noble Eightfold Path
The Theravada tradition focuses on the Noble Eightfold Path. At Namchak, we follow the Vajrayana path while still valuing Theravadan teachings.
According to the Buddha, the Noble Eightfold Path consists of consists of Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. We like to think of the first seven as pillars that support Right Concentration.
Right View is the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. For a deep dive on those, click here. When we have a true understanding of the Four Noble Truths, we realize that the further our perception from reality, the more we suffer.
- The Truth of Suffering: We are living in an ongoing state of dissatisfaction.
- The Truth of the Origin of Suffering: Suffering/dissatisfaction arises from causes and conditions.
- The Truth of Cessation: There is a possibility of reaching a state where that dissatisfaction/suffering has ceased.
- The Truth of the Path: There is a path for us to follow that will bring us to such a state.
Right Resolve is to be resolved on renunciation—the wish to be freed from suffering, resolved on freedom from ill will, and on non-violence. In other words, we hold the intention to prevent suffering for ourselves and others. We suffer when we have incorrect perceptions of reality. For example, thinking that a situation or a person is always going to be the same is a misperception of reality that will cause us and others to suffer. We begin to see and understand reality when we engage in regular Shamata and Vipassana practice.
Right Speech means to abstain from false, divisive, and harsh speech, as well as idle chatter. For example, if we are in a situation where people are talking negatively about someone else, we do not engage, and instead express that we do not want to take part in the conversation. We all know that moment when the office “water cooler” chit chat becomes harmful or divisive. We can take a moment and ask ourselves, “Are my words coming from a wholesome intention?” “Are my words aimed at tearing someone down?” “Are my words true?” Ideally, we choose to engage in Right Speech, which will lead to connection.
Right Action is more than simply holding the intention of causing no harm to ourselves and others but to ensure that what we are doing physically does not cause harm to any sentient beings. This means an avoidance of killing, injuring, stealing, and sexual misconduct.
Right Livelihood for monastics is to live from the donations of others and never take more than one needs. For laypeople it means to avoid any livelihood that causes suffering to others by cheating, harming, or killing them. Whether we are business owners or employees, we can ensure that we are following ethically sound methods of making a living. If we are unemployed, we can ask ourselves if our means of survival are ethical and if we are causing harm to anyone else in our quest to meet our basic needs.
Right Effort means to diligently cultivate good qualities and to abandon non-virtuous thoughts and actions. The Buddha taught that if you want to be happy, there are certain behaviors that will help you attain that goal and others that will prevent it. In Buddhism, virtue is anything that causes happiness, and non-virtue is anything that causes suffering. To learn more about Buddhist virtues and non-virtues, click here.
Right Mindfulness means to remain mindful of the body, feelings, consciousness, and mental phenomena while abandoning attachment and aversion. To learn more about mindfulness, click here. Simply put, it is to remain aware of what you are doing. As easy as this seems, when was the last time you were walking or taking transportation somewhere and completely lost track of where you were? It’s easy to lose track of what we are doing. We can ask ourselves “How am I existing in this moment?” or, “How is the world around me existing in this moment?”
To find the answers, we examine our body, mind, feelings, and surroundings. We can do so at the beginning of each day and from moment to moment throughout our days. This awareness leads to our responding to the reality of situations around us, rather than reverting to our immediate reactions.
The first seven of these pillars are supports for the eighth:
Right Concentration means to remain withdrawn from our senses and focused upon the object of our meditation while we practice. By avoiding counter-productive, harmful thoughts and actions, we develop a stable mind. We create a situation where our mind isn’t easily disturbed and can more naturally be directed in meditation. We become more skillful meditators.
These can also be broken down into three categories, referred to as the Threefold Way:
- Ethics: Right Action, Right Speech, and Right Livelihood.
- Meditation: Right Mindfulness, Right Effort, and Right Concentration.
- Wisdom: Right View and Right Resolve.
These eight principles serve more as guides than eight steps to follow in order. We aim to apply them throughout our lives. As we make decisions daily, we can use these guiding principles to help us make choices that lead away from suffering and towards enlightenment.
Stay tuned for more on the Six Perfections!
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